When I sat down to write Woman of the Dead, I didn’t want to write a standard thriller; I wanted to move away from the usual suspects: the gangs and the journalists, the policemen and their procedures. That is why I created Blum—an anguished, grieving, vengeful female undertaker—a lovable murderess.

Like most writers of crime fiction, I have always been fascinated by the taboos around death. For my previous novels, I had talked to gravediggers and forensic scientists; I’d spent afternoons walking around cemeteries. But to write Woman of the Dead, I had to get even closer to death so I decided to work as an undertaker’s assistant for six months.

Secrets from beyond

My new boss took me under her wing and showed me how to care for the dead, many of whom were being prepared for display in open coffins. With her help, I came to terms with what remains when life has left a body. I remember the second time I prepared a body. I was standing by the head of a corpse with a hair dryer in my hand. I was drying the snow-white hair of an 84-year-old woman and thought, “Bernhard, what the hell are you doing here?” Then I remembered I was there not only to understand the process of repairing a body, but also how that body felt. Every time I clocked off and returned to the outside world, I felt the sun on my skin so much more keenly than I had before.

As a writer, I can kill anyone I want to, whenever I want to, without guilt or repercussions. As I researched and wrote, I asked myself: “What would I do when someone robbed me of what I love? What would flip my switch? Would I be capable of murder?” Blum has answered this question for me somehow.

Woman of the Dead by Bernhard Aichner

I’d never read about a female undertaker, especially one who drives a white Cadillac when she isn’t riding her Ducati Monster. Of course, Blum can’t get away with murder quite as easily as I can in my fiction. The question is, when will she get her comeuppance and what will that comeuppance be?

Blum becomes a vigilante out of sheer, raw emotion and pain. Woman of the Dead isn’t just a thriller; it’s also a love story. Love and death go together—without Blum’s love for her policeman husband Mark, without having seen how happy Mark makes her, the reader could never be in a position to sympathize with Blum and the terrible things she does.

It’s rather fun. And I like nothing more than a good revenge story.

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